Mar 01, 2024
Mar 01, 2024
à la Black Lives Matter...
As recently as last week I came across an article in local newspaper here, about the racism and casteism exhibited and being practiced at an alarming rate by the elite Indian diasporas in the United States of America that made the City Council of Seattle receive a jolt and take notice of the earnestness of the issue.
The article further stated that the employees in Seattle were very vocal and verbally expressed that they didn’t want to work under Indian (read Brown) executives, because they were harassed on the basis of their race and caste. Soon after this uproar of caste discrimination came to the fore, the social organizations, individuals, public representatives and policymakers in America took cognizance and Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant introduced an anti-discrimination bill to the council on February 21 and it was passed by a vote of 6 to 1. (Interestingly, the city council has merely 7 members, not even in two digits).
So far so good. What caught my attention in the article was a paragraph which loosely translated in English would mean: The violence, disparity and discrimination that comes from racism and casteism was not known to America. They have to make this legislation to curb such discrimination which is brought by the Indian immigrants who have settled in America.
“Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance", said Will Durant. How true is the statement when the author of the above mentioned article says that “The violence, disparity and discrimination that comes from racism and casteism was not known to America."
Racism, the “feelings or actions of hatred and bigotry toward a person or persons because of their race”, has always been an issue in America since its founding. Until the mid-1800’s, racism existed in the form of slavery. Africans were brought to America to be bought, sold, and traded amongst farmers and plantation owners. Oftentimes, families were separated and sold to different owners. They were forced to work endlessly and were often beaten if they failed to adequately perform their duties.
There was this memoir released in January 1853 by Solomon Northup titled “12 Years a Slave”, which narrates about his kidnapping, captivity in abhorrent conditions, and subsequent forced labor picking cotton on a farm, during which he was bought and sold, hit, and betrayed, is extremely traumatic to read. When the book was released, Northerners were skeptical due to this personal account of southern brutality. The work quickly rose to bestseller status. 16 decades later, a film adaptation of Solomon Northrup's memoir dealt the tale a new blow. Both historians and detractors have praised an unwavering exposé of the dark side of American history of racism. It became a significant Hollywood hit in terms of both money and numerous awards.
The horrifying narrative of Northup starts in 1841. Slavery being legal in Washington during those days, Northrup lands a job there. His employer is a slave trader and on the very first day he is drugged and knocked out. He wakes up in chains and is at the slave dealer's mercy. When he argues that he is a free man, the slave trader brutally beats him. Northup is then sold to labor on a plantation in the isolated backwoods of Louisiana after being forcibly transported by ship to New Orleans. He experiences the hardship and inhumanity that millions of slaves before and after him did there over the period of 12 years, without his family knowing about it.
The history of Americans of African heritage, or the history of the country overall, has been a pendulum of success and failure, resiliency and retaliation, protest and backlash. There have been both friends and adversaries. There have been both visionaries who sought to unite Americans and extremists who sought to split USA along racial and social lines.
Since the Declaration of Independence, Americans have aspired to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," but it is far from the truth. In 1776, women, black Americans, and Native Americans were not present at the table when DoI was being signed. Moreover of the 56 signers, forty were the owners of slave trade.
The Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision in 1857 made it clear that people of African ancestry, whether they were enslaved or free, would not be considered American citizens and had no legal footing in the courts. That was almost 81 years after DoI. It didn't matter that some of their great-grandfathers had fought in the Revolutionary War for George Washington's Continental Army.
Native Americans were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands in the 1830s towards Deep South. This enabled to make way for massive cotton farms. Slavery and the slave trade became crucial to the growth of the American economy and capitalism. Unpaid labor was integral to the country's wealth, which not only benefited planters but also colleges, banks, textile factories, ship owners, and insurance companies that had policies on their bodies. An owner of a slave merely had to trade one of his slaves to pay off a debt. It was so simple.
Enslaved Americans made up one-fifth of the country's wealth in 1850, valued at $1.3 billion, according to inventories kept by their owners alongside livestock and agricultural machinery. That human collateral was worth more than $3 billion when the first shot of the Civil War was discharged at Fort Sumter in April 1861, surpassing the value of all the nation's banks, railroads, mills, and factories put together. They were America's "greatest financial assets.”
After the Civil War, 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments came into being. The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the United States Constitution are referred to as the "Reconstruction Amendments" and were added to the Constitution during the period of Reconstruction following the American Civil War.The 13th Amendment, ratified on December 6, 1865, abolished slavery and involuntary servitude except as punishment for a crime.The 14th Amendment which was ratified on July 9, 1868, provides citizenship and equal protection under the law to all persons born or naturalized in the United States, including former slaves.The 15th Amendment, ratified on February 3, 1870, prohibits the federal and state governments from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen's "race, color, or previous condition of servitude."
Together, these amendments aimed to provide legal protections and political rights to Black Americans and ensure their full participation in American society, but this came to an end with severe retaliation by the vested interests. Following the Compromise of 1877, federal forces withdrew from their posts in the South, and the defeated Confederates reorganized as the Ku Klux Klan and the Knights of the White Camellia, broke the lives of Black through terror, violence, and voter suppression. Whites were able to reclaim control and start their nefarious activities of giving troubles to black Americans.
Then there were Jim Crow laws which, the author of the article mentioned above was not aware of. These laws were a set of state and local laws in the United States that enforced racial segregation and discrimination against African Americans from the late 1800s until the mid-1960s. These laws were named after a character in a popular minstrel show that represented a stereotypical image of Black people.
The Jim Crow laws required the separation of Black people from white people in public spaces such as schools, parks, restaurants, and transportation. They also denied Black Americans the right to vote, own property, and receive equal access to education and employment opportunities.
Jim Crow laws were enforced in the Southern states, which had a large Black population, but they also existed in other parts of the country. The laws were justified under the concept of "separate but equal," which argued that separate facilities for Black people and white people were equal in quality.
However, in reality, Black people were often given inferior facilities and services, such as poorly equipped schools and hospitals, and overcrowded and unsanitary housing. Black people were also subject to violence, intimidation, and harassment if they tried to challenge Jim Crow laws.
The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s challenged and ultimately dismantled the Jim Crow laws. The movement, led by figures such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, used nonviolent protest, civil disobedience, and legal challenges to fight for the rights of Black Americans.
In 1954, the Supreme Court declared that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education. This decision paved the way for the end of segregation in other areas of life.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were also crucial in ending Jim Crow laws. These laws prohibited discrimination based on race in public places, employment, and voting, and provided federal oversight of voting rights in areas with a history of discrimination.
But did the discrimination end? No. After slavery was abolished, racism still continued to exist in the form of segregation. African Americans were separated from white people in nearly every way. When segregation formally ended by the 1970s, some people argued that racism was no longer relevant. In reality, however, racism has continued to exist in several forms, and ultimately remains a serious issue in present-day America, here and now.
Let us take two cases of the most popular and world famous iconic Pop Star of America Michael Jackson and Rock Star Elvis Presley.
Michael Jackson was subject to racism throughout his life. As a Black artist, he faced discrimination and prejudice both in the music industry and in society as a whole.
In his early career with The Jackson 5, the group faced segregation in venues they played in, and were often denied access to certain hotels and restaurants because of their race. As a solo artist, Michael Jackson faced criticism and controversy for his appearance, including his skin tone and changing facial features, which some attributed to his desire to look whiter. Jackson himself spoke about his experiences with racism in interviews and songs such as "Black or White" and "They Don't Care About Us."
The composition "Black or White" was published in November 1991. The song's 1 minute, 45 second introduction makes the video feel more like a short film. He is arguing that individuals are more than just one color and that it is wrong to judge people solely on the basis of the color of their skin. It also speaks about discrimination of religion and sexual orientation, and the message is to come together, it doesn't matter what religion, sexual orientation, or color(race or ethnicity) you identify with. We are all equal as people.In his opinion, racism is totally wrong.
In a sequel of a song “ Black or White” titled “Panther” performed by Michael Jackson in a fast tempo is a criticism against racial injustice. Anger, frustration, rebellion, a scream at the injustices of the world, a liberating dance that goes beyond the prejudices and imprisonments imposed by the society. He cries out for freedom, cries out for change. In the song he smashes the car window which bears the sign of Nazi Swastika, a direct hit on the atrocities of Auchwitz holocaust. He damages the whole car with a club taking out his frustration. He pulls out the steering wheel and hurls it on a glass door where "KKK Rules" is painted on and smashes it into pieces. A direct attack on Ku Klux Klan, an American white supremacist, right-wing terrorist, and hate group whose primary targets are African
Americans, Jews, Latinos, Asian Americans, and immigrants. He tears off his White shirt into pieces and finally he metamorphosizes himself into a BLACK Panther. No surprise that the song was banned.
His "They Don't Care About Us" was released in 1996. The song was initially controversial due to its lyrics, which some people felt were inflammatory and divisive.
Some of the themes that the song touches on include racism, police brutality, and media manipulation.
In particular, Jackson was inspired to write the song after he had been accused of child molestation in 1993. He felt that he had been unfairly targeted by the media and that he was being treated as guilty before being given a fair trial. This experience, along with his personal experiences with racism and discrimination, helped to shape the lyrics of "They Don't Care About Us."
Jackson's intention with the song was to draw attention to these issues and to call for greater social justice and equality. Despite the initial controversy surrounding the song, it has since become one of Jackson's most powerful and socially conscious works.He was a strong advocate for racial equality and social justice, and his music and philanthropy reflected this.
Elvis Presley, even being a white, faced racism during his lifetime. Although he became one of the most successful and influential musicians of the 20th century, he experienced discrimination and prejudice throughout his career, especially in the early years of his career when he was breaking into the music industry.
Regarding his "King of Rock 'N' Roll" status and reputation, Elvis had said that Rock 'n' Roll existed for a very long period before he was born. No one can sing that style of music so well as individuals of color, he further added.
Elvis also stated that he always wanted to perform like Billy Kenny of the Ink Spots. Before he cut his debut album, "That's Alright, Mama." he had heard Arthur (Big Boy) Crudup sing it and decided to sing in the same manner.
In his early years as a musician, Presley ran with people like Ike Turner and later became good friends with B.B. King, James Brown, Cissy Houston, and Muhammad Ali. He grew up on the "black side" of Tupelo. The accusation of racism against him is untrue.
Elvis’s song “ In the Ghetto” draws a picture of a stark poverty in the segregated area of black people. This is seen in the poem when, as one poverty victim is dying (the young man), another poverty victim is born. "The world turns" and the desperate life of the ghetto continues.
As a white musician performing music that was heavily influenced by Black culture and musicians, Elvis faced criticism and accusations of cultural appropriation. He also faced discrimination from some radio stations and venues that refused to play his music or book him for shows because of his association with Black music.
Moreover, during the 1950s and 1960s, the era in which Elvis rose to fame, the civil rights movement was gaining momentum in the United States, and racial tensions were high. Despite these challenges, Elvis continued to draw inspiration from Black music and musicians and worked with many Black musicians throughout his career. He also publicly denounced racism and prejudice, and in the late 1960s, he famously sang a cover of the song "If I Can Dream," which was written in response to the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
Despite the civil rights movement of the 1960s, racism continues to be a problem in America . People of color, particularly Black Americans, face discrimination in various aspects of life, including housing, education, employment, and the criminal justice system.
John F. Kennedy, the most loved President of USA faced racism during his lifetime, both personally and as President of the United States.
As a young man, Kennedy's family belonged to a wealthy and influential social circle in Boston, which was largely white and Protestant. Kennedy himself was Catholic, and faced discrimination and prejudice because of his religion.
As a politician, Kennedy was also criticized by some for his stance on civil rights issues, particularly his initial reluctance to fully support the civil rights movement. In fact, during his 1960 presidential campaign, some southern Democrats opposed his candidacy because they believed he would be too sympathetic to the civil rights movement.
During his presidency, Kennedy faced significant pressure to address civil rights issues, including desegregation of schools and voting rights for African Americans. In 1963, he gave a nationally televised speech in which he declared that segregation was morally wrong and announced his intention to introduce civil rights legislation.
Unfortunately, Kennedy did not live to see the full implementation of his civil rights agenda, as he was assassinated later that year on 22 November 1963. One of the reason of his assassination was his popularity among African Americans.
However, his legacy played an important role in the eventual passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was signed into law by his successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Barrack Obama, the first African American President of the United States, also faced racism and discrimination during his presidency and throughout his life. Some people who opposed his policies and beliefs made derogatory comments about his race, ethnicity, and religion, and spread false rumors and conspiracy theories about his background and qualifications. Additionally, some media outlets and political commentators made racially charged remarks about him, which fueled divisive and harmful discourse.
Despite the racism and hostility he faced, Obama continued to promote diversity, inclusion, and equality during his presidency, and championed policies to address systemic racism, such as the Affordable Care Act and the Fair Sentencing Act. He also spoke out against hate speech and bigotry, and called for greater understanding and empathy among Americans of different backgrounds.
On February 26, 2012, in Sanford, Florida, Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American high school student, was walking home from a convenience store when he was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who claimed he acted in self-defense.
The incident sparked national outrage and became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. It has been since then highlighting the persistent issue of racial profiling and police brutality against Black people in the United States.
The handling of the case by the local police department and prosecutors was widely criticized, with many people believing that race played a significant factor in the investigation. It was only after a public outcry and a federal investigation that Zimmerman was eventually charged with second-degree murder. In July 2013, Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges by a jury of six women, sparking renewed protests and calls for justice.
Just four years back, the case of George Floyd exhibited the ugly face of white supremacy that created hue and cry from all over the world. George Floyd was a 46-year-old African American man who was killed during an arrest by Minneapolis police officers on May 25, 2020. The incident was captured on video by witnesses and quickly went viral, sparking protests and outrage across the United States and around the world.
Police officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee into Floyd's neck who was restrained on the ground for more than nine minutes while Floyd repeatedly stated that he couldn't breathe. Despite the pleas of bystanders, Chauvin continued to restrain Floyd until he became unresponsive. Floyd was later pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.
The killing of George Floyd sparked widespread protests against police brutality and systemic racism, with demonstrators calling for accountability and reform in law enforcement. Chauvin was later charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and manslaughter in connection with Floyd's death. He was found guilty of all charges in April 2021 and sentenced to 22.5 years in prison.
Housing discrimination was redlining, a practice in which lenders refuse to provide mortgages or loans to people in certain neighborhoods, often based on race. This lead to the concentration of poverty in certain areas, making it difficult for people to escape poverty and providing less opportunity for upward mobility.
Another example of racism in America was educational inequality. Public schools in predominantly Black neighborhoods often received less funding and resources than schools in predominantly white neighborhoods, leading to unequal educational opportunities and outcomes.
The criminal justice system is still plagued by racism. Black Americans are more likely to be arrested, convicted, and sentenced to longer prison sentences than white Americans for similar crimes. This is due in part to biases in policing and the justice system, as well as societal and cultural attitudes towards people of color.
Racism in America is not limited to individual acts of prejudice or discrimination. It is deeply ingrained in the social and political systems of the country. It is perpetuated by a history of white supremacy and the belief that people of color are inferior to white people.
Overcoming racism in America requires a multi-faceted approach that addresses systemic and institutionalized racism, as well as individual acts of prejudice and discrimination. It requires acknowledging and confronting the country's history of racism and its continued effects on people of color.
One way to address racism in America is through education and awareness. It is important to teach children and adults about the history of racism in America and its lasting effects. This can be done through the inclusion of diverse perspectives and histories in educational curricula, as well as through public campaigns and initiatives.
In conclusion, racism is a pervasive issue in America that has had lasting effects on people of color which is still going on in one way or the other, the fact which was unknown to the author of the article mentioned at the beginning.
Image (c) istock.com
More by : Dr. Satish Bendigiri